Who is this Notre Dame football team? Are they really the 114th ranked offense or did the second half of the Cal game signal that a corner has been turned? Are they the team that hung tough for four quarters with Ohio State or the team that struggled to keep pace with Marshall? We’ll find out a little bit more this weekend as they square off against the team the ACC loves to put on Notre Dame’s schedule above all others. For the third straight year, the North Carolina Tar Heels and Notre Dame meet the week after a UNC bye week. A bye week that the Tarheels have used to get healthier with the potential return of their best player, Josh Downs. Sadly for North Carolina, Downs doesn’t play on the offensive line nor is linebacker to assist in their porous rush defense. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m still not ready to fully write this season off and if Cal served as the start of them turning the corner, UNC serves as the launch pad for what is to come.
A true glass cannon
The inkwells have run dry with the amount of articles printed about how dynamic this UNC offense is. Helmed by first year starter Drake Maye, Phil Longo’s offense hasn’t missed beat with the graduation of fat Ian Book(Sam Howell). That is of course, if you willingly choose to ignore that they’ve played an FCS opponent and two G5 teams in their first three games. I’m not going to forgive the fact Notre Dame LOST to a G5 opponent and struggled offensively in the effort. That doesn’t mean I can’t mention that Georgia State and App State are the 111th and 112th ranked teams respectively in yards per play allowed. So while Maye’s 73.5% completion rate, 930yards and 11:1 TD/INT are impressive, it’s not been against the greatest of foes. Georgia State is 0-3 and lost 42-41 to Charlotte, no one’s hyping Chris Reynolds who threw for 401 and 5TD in that game. It’s like boasting you’re the prettiest girl in school when you’re homeschooled. What wasn’t masked by their level of opponents is the fact their offense line is still bad. Very bad. Per PFF Drake Maye has been pressured on 44% of his drop backs against FBS opponents, not great Bob.
Couple that with the undeniable fact that their defense is absolutely putrid; 119th in scoring, 112th in passing, 111th in rushing and 123rd in total defense. One of the biggest reasons is the cornerback of the all-name team, Storm Duck. They say duck is a greasy meat, which makes sense because everyone is seemingly slipping behind him. It’s not just him though, everyone is seemingly out of position and confused on just about every play.
I got a fever
In the span of a week it has been narratively established that Drew Pyne would need to a hit a cutoff man to throw from the third to first on a routine grounder. I too watched the Cal game, which means I saw a quarterback who didn’t take anything that resembled a shot downfield. The difference is that I don’t have the memory of a goldfish. I watched the Wisconsin game, I watched the Cincinnati game, I saw with my own eyes Drew Pyne push the ball downfield. Maybe the game plan against Cal simply did not call for him to do so, maybe he had a rough week at practice and they wanted to protect him, knowing the running game was simply enough. With the secondary and nonexistent pass rush they are going to see this week, I can’t help but think Tommy Rees is going to have a fever, and the only prescription is more downfield shots.
I should clarify that when I say “downfield shots” I don’t mean the kind of deep looks that Buchner was missing on against Marshall. What I expect to see is maybe 10-11 passes of 10+yards downfield to help stretch things out a little bit. This is still going to be a team that relies heavily on the run game but in order to continue to find the success they found against Cal, Pyne HAS to show that he is capable of burning teams that sellout on the run. Michael Mayer exists and thus, when a matchups favor him, you have to be able to get him the ball over the middle.
If Josh Downs was 100% it might change some of the math here slightly but a slot receiver with a bum knee isn’t going to get the touches he might otherwise get. Even so, I think the Notre Dame defensive line continues their assentation and while Maye is mobile enough to avoid some of the pressure, the Irish line is going to get theirs. For the first time this year, Notre Dame is able to establish an offense early and is able to take a two score lead into the fourth before a late touchdown makes it 28-21.